State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx announced Friday, March 20, that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) will not prosecute cases of non-violent, low-level narcotics offenses in consideration for the COVID-19 pandemic. Her staff will continue to review and prioritize other charges on a case-by-case basis to make appropriate determinations in light of the public health crisis and reduced court operations and staffing.
The CCSAO’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion is aimed at protecting the health and safety of police officers, first responders, medical professionals, jail staff and the Cook County community at-large, according to a CCSAO news release. Reducing the number of individuals who cycle through police stations and jail on minor offenses could mitigate some risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus.
As the Illinois State Police Forensic Sciences Command laboratory system has closed for the routine submission of evidence, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is only allowed to submit evidence for emergency testing in cases involving violent crimes and crimes against persons at this time.
“Out of an abundance of caution for the health of law enforcement and the community at large, the state’s attorney’s office will not be pursuing cases which pose little to no risk to public safety at this time,” said Foxx. “An outbreak of coronavirus in our police stations or the Cook County Jail would be devastating, not just for those who are arrested or in-custody during this time, but for the officers, staff and all of Cook County. Everyone deserves to be protected, especially during these uncertain times, and we are obligated to ensure all members of our community feel safe, including those behind bars.”
Under typical circumstances, individuals charged with non-violent, low-level offenses would be eligible for release with pre-trial monitoring or diverted to a community-based alternative prosecution program.
Currently, individuals arrested and charged with minor, non-violent felony offenses spend up to 48 hours in custody before the state’s attorney’s office is able to dismiss the case at bond court. In-custody conditions increase the opportunity for the spread of COVID-19, where it can be a challenge to implement guidelines set by public health officials regarding measures aimed at containing the virus.
The CCSAO is working collaboratively with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Public Defender to ensure any individuals who are not a threat to public safety are released from Cook County Jail.